Chapter 1 - Leaving
Honor closed her eyes and listened to the wind outside the kitchen window whip the branches around like ribbons. She’d been listening to Old Mother list the reasons that she should stay. The inclement weather was one of her reasons, and the least compelling of them all. Honor had made the decision to leave months ago and she couldn’t deny the inevitability any longer. She swiveled around in the chair and faced Old Mother, her guardian of the past ten years. She had resigned herself to leaving this time regardless of how much Old Mother argued against it.
"There are too many mouths to feed, Old Mother. Staying would only make things harder on you…and them."
Old Mother adjusted the frayed knitted shawl around her shoulders and wrapped her hands around the steaming mug of tea. It should have burned her twisted old hands, but she didn’t seem in the least bothered. "The streets are no place for a young girl like you to be alone."
"I can take care of myself," said Honor lifting her chin. "I always have been able to."
"We are a family, Honor. Why would you leave your family?"
Honor glared at Old Mother. As much as she loved her, she wasn't willing to pretend. Not about her life, not about who and what she was. "Are you kidding? I don't even know who I am!" Honor slammed her fist down onto the splintered kitchen table overturning a sugar bowl and a can of cola. “And you won’t tell me.”
Old Mother rose from her seat, shuffled over to the sink and retrieved a towel to clean the mess. She did this without saying a word, not to protest Honor's sudden anger, not to admonish, not in fear. Shame as warm as Old Mother's tea and as palpable as the table rose up in Honor's chest nearly choking her.
"I'm sorry, Old Mother. It’s just that this is something that I need to do for both me and you. I can't live my life wondering where my strength and gifts came from. I have got to go out there, find out who I am, why I am. And you…you deserve happiness." Honor took the towel from Old Mother and completed the job of wiping the table. Old Mother reseated herself and drank the scalding tea in long deep drags as if she were drinking cold water. Honor continued, "The Authorities are after me now, and so are the Scientists. If they trace me back here, you and the kids will be in danger." Honor shrugged her shoulders. "Besides, there is no more room for me."
Honor leaned forward and kissed Old Mothers forehead. Her skin was thin and wrinkled and she smelled of the herbs she grew in the storage room next to the kitchen. Then, Honor stood up to leave. As she started to walk away, Old Mother grabbed her arm.
"Wait a minute." Old Mother's voice was suddenly as crystal and as cold as ice and her fingers were strong and immovable considering how frail she looked. Honor was startled by the old woman's sudden strength. Old Mother pushed her other hand into the pocket of her threadbare apron and removed a small leather drawstring pouch.
Honor immediately began to protest. "I can't take your money."
"Good thing,” she said chuckling, “because I haven’t any to give you.” She held the pouch up so that Honor could see it. “This is far, far better than money." Old Mother placed the worn leather pouch into the palm of Honor's hand. "This will help you see."
Honor was silent a moment, contemplating Old Mother's words. Old Mother had always spoken in riddles and half-truths and as every other time, Honor felt as if she had to decode the message.
"This will help you see Truth."
Again, Old Mother’s words stilled Honor. She could think of no truth that she had failed to see. In fact, it was truth that she was after now. Honor’s past was veiled so that not even she could see it. She could not remember her parents, whether she had siblings, or her life and home prior to shifting into Old Mother’s Bedroom in the dark hours before dawn ten years ago. Honor wanted truth so desperately that there were times when even a lie would do, if only to fill the void between reality and the emptiness that was her past.
Old Mother’s eyes widened and she gazed pointedly into Honor’s face. “Do you understand what I am telling you to do?”
Honor held out her hand to receive the pouch. She shook her head. “Old Mother, I never understand what you are telling me.”
“I know child, but you will.” Old Mother placed the pouch into the palm of Honor’s hand. Her eyes remained steady on Honor’s face.
When Honor tucked the pouch into her vest pocket, she felt a slight surge of heat energy radiate through her core. She closed her eyes in an effort to push back the nausea that came with this warm wave, but instead of seeing blackness, she had a vision of a man stooped down on his haunches. The smooth skin of his head glistened with sweat under piercing lights positioned directly above him. His head was bowed so that Honor couldn’t see his face. His large shoulders sloped forward as if he were trying to fold in on himself and his enormous hands dangled between his legs. Just as suddenly as the vision came, it evaporated leaving Honor empty. She felt as if she had lost something.
When Honor opened her eyes, Old Mother was still watching her. “What happened?”
Honor shook her head to clear the fog left by the vision. “I don’t know.”
“What did you see?” Old Mother asked impatiently.
“Nothing. I had better get going before the kids come home. One good-bye is enough.”
Honor crossed the kitchen, opened the door and stepped out into the rain. It had begun to freeze and pellets of ice stung on her face and hands. Honor pulled her jacket close around her neck, folded her arms across her chest and put her head down as she pushed out against the wind. Honor crossed the barren yard littered with broken and aged toys, shoes, and garbage. She had no idea where she was going to go, or even how she would get there. She stepped off the curb to cross the street as she heard Old Mother's voice cracked and straining and nearly lost in the whining wind.
"Haven't I been a good guardian to you?"
In a voice so low Honor could hardly hear herself, she said, "You've been the best. It's me that’s the problem."
Within less than a minute, Honor had disappeared down a dark alley until she reached the fence, the dividing line between End Row the worst part of Soroton, where Honor had lived for the last ten years, and Sinistral City where only the most hardened and forsaken go. Maybe there, Honor figured, she could disappear from the radar of the Authorities and the Scientists and find what she was looking for, though she wasn’t sure what that might be. Perhaps, she could find out where she belonged, because it surely wasn't in Soroton. She was nothing like the people of Soroton and she had always been aware of this. Nothing she could do would change this, and she would always stand out like a light in the gloom if she stayed here.
What eighteen-year-old girl could beat the 300lb. guard of Mad Mike without breaking a sweat and without help? She could and had. What eighteen-year-old girl could find herself suddenly transported from one end of the street to the other without even thinking about it, just because she had been angry, or hurt, or sad? Honor could. How many eighteen-year-old girls had visions and dreams of people they had never before laid their eyes on? Not many, but Honor could.
Honor stood at the end of the alley and looked out over the gray cityscape of Sinistral City. She tilted her head up to the sky, eyes closed and inhaled deeply. She smelled smoke and the acrid stench stung her throat. "God help me," she said to herself as she lowered her head and stepped up to catch her first foothold in the wire fence. Within seconds, she had made it over the top and had crossed over, headlong toward her destiny.